I must confess a certain struggle in my job as a teacher and as a columnist for this paper. Both the Glendale Unified School District and the Glendale News-Press would prefer that I not inject my personal political views into classrooms or columns.
My expertise, my experience if you will, gives me a little latitude in both jobs, but I am obliged to refrain from expressing any personal beliefs lest they unduly influence impressionable minds or, from the standpoint of the News-Press, venture beyond the parameters of a local newspaper.
So I’ll do my very best to stick to my classroom and offer a “fair and balanced” recap of the first meeting of our Debate Club, which featured lengthy and wide-ranging discussions of the upcoming election.
Allow me to share some of my notes taken from about 100 or so kids who are struggling right along with the rest of us to make some sense of the mess that our country is presently in.
A very small, and I must say brave, group of students believe that the war in Iraq is going well and was the right thing to do. Others question thousands of American lives lost, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost and trillions of American dollars spent in a failed effort to bring democracy to people who mostly resent our presence in their country.
Still others wonder why we haven’t concentrated all of our efforts in Afghanistan where the real enemy is.
Most all of the students in attendance agreed that they are looking forward to having a president, whether Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama, who is smarter than they are.
They will not be so forgiving in the future of a president who mangles the English language or whose main appeal is being someone that the average American would be comfortable sitting down and having a beer with.
Some gave McCain high marks for finally coming to the conclusion that man is responsible for the global warming that threatens future generations and the health of our planet. Others wondered whether his plans to squeeze every last drop of oil from this Earth before seriously considering alternate energy resources is the best way to heal the planet.
Some applauded his choice of a running mate in Sarah Palin.
“She’s just so natural,” I heard more than one student say.
“I like her honesty,” said a girl who obviously saw something in Palin that the rest did not.
Others wondered why a party that made such a big deal about Obama’s inexperience would choose a running mate whose grasp of foreign policy was considerably less than their own.
On the subject of abortion, which has been re-injected into our national debate, these young adults are more evenly divided.
Unlike their elders, they are not able to determine exactly when life begins, and so their arguments traverse philosophical and religious questions that have no resolution.
There’s always, however, a few fundamentalists in the mix with a ready supply of answers for the rest who are less assured in their understanding of God’s will and purpose.
The current economic meltdown was much on everyone’s mind. Like their teacher, my students could not comprehend why a government, which for the last eight years has preached deregulation and limited, non-interventionist policies, was now advocating the largest government handout in the history of our country.
What was especially puzzling to all of us were the enormous severance packages paid to the chief executives who have presided over failing corporations and companies.
I have the privilege of overseeing groups of young people whose minds are not yet hardened with “The Truth,” minds still flexible enough to listen to both sides of an argument, still filled with more questions than answers and just beginning to understand the influence of tyrannical majorities as well as fanatical minorities.
They’re learning about political spectra and party labels that we adults are so fond of using to characterize and categorize each other — liberal, conservative, pro-this/anti-that — labels that get people to react with automatic answers and thus relieve them of the responsibility of thinking.
I’m encouraging the seniors at our school who will soon be eligible to vote to get off their rear ends and register. We’ve managed to saddle them, and likely their children, with a multitrillion-dollar debt, and they have a right, if not a duty, to demand answers about how it happened.
And if they are going to join the electorate, hopefully they will provide their own answers about preventing it from ever happening again.
DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@ sbcglobal.net.